Legendary singer and performer Aretha Franklin died on August 16, 2018, leaving behind a legacy of thousands of performances, and countless chart topping Jazz and R&B hits. What did she not leave behind? A will or living trust.

When someone passes away without a will or living trust, they die “intestate”. This means that there are no official documents that instruct Franklin’s heirs on how to distribute her assets. A recent Gallup poll suggests that only 44% of Americans actually have a will, which leaves the vast majority of people’s children responsible to dispose of their property when they die and wade through the lengthy probate process.

A will is typically a necessary document in a living trust, which is an element of an overall estate plan. Anyone who has any real property, or assets over $100,000 should have a comprehensive estate plan so that their heirs do not have to spend thousands of dollars and a minimum of 12 – 18 months going through the probate process.

$80 Million at Stake

Aretha Franklin’s estate is reported to be worth roughly $80 million, and most likely more into the future with licensing agreements and copyrights. Her estate will likely be divided equally among her 4 children, which may not be what she wanted considering her eldest son has special needs and will need financial support and specialized healthcare for the rest of his life. Had Franklin invested a relatively minor amount of money in preparing a living trust, she could have provided special instructions for her eldest son, other 3 children, family members and friends. She could have also allocated money to be donated to charitable organizations, set up a scholarship, or be distributed on a schedule or with contingencies if she had concerns about how the money would be spent.

Aretha Franklin: An Estate Headed for Probate Court

During her lifetime, Franklin accumulated millions of dollars in cash, investments and real property. Additionally, she left behind personal belongings that have sentimental and real value as collectibles. She likely has countless awards, jewelry, dresses and clothing, documents and pictures that need to be disposed of in a way that she would want. Without a will or living trust, the probate court and an executor, (successor trustee), must intervene to decide who gets what and approve distributions. Additionally, Franklin may have outstanding debts or other obligations that creditors may make a claim for.

When millions of dollars are at stake, there is always a high likelihood that there will be some probate litigation that will need to take place. A creditor, family member, business associate or friend can make a claim against the estate. Furthermore, when numerous family members are involved, there is always a possibility that someone will feel left out or slighted by their share of the estate. Probate litigation can cost tens of thousands of dollars under normal circumstances; when millions of dollars are involved that can quickly escalate to hundreds of thousands or millions spent on litigating claims to preserve the estate.

Invest a Few Thousand Dollars to Protect Your Estate

While it may sound crazy not to protect $80 million dollars with a simple living trust, many people who’ve accumulated this and much more have no legal documents prepared, and leave it to the courts and their heirs to deal with. Unfortunately, much of the costs and delays associated with probate could be circumvented with a simple legal document. Of course, when this much money is involved an estate plan & living trust will be considerably more complex, but most people need a simple living trust and a few other documents totaling $2,500 – $4,500 (or more depending on circumstances).

Contact an estate planning & probate lawyer in Chicago with the experience to help you prepare a comprehensive living trust, advanced health care directive, will or other documents that will allow your heirs to enjoy the assets you’ve left for them without the costs and interference of the probate process.